Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: neighborhood small year 2009

Neighborhood Small Year 2009

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

During the second week of January 2009, while walking along the trail that runs down to the little pond in our neighborhood, I decided to make it a point to come out at least once a week and count birds to try to get a sense of what birds are in the neighborhood, when they’re here and how many I could see.

I jokingly called it my Pond Trail Big Year, mainly because I didn’t expect to see all that many birds on our little stretch of trail. It turned out to be more of a medium or even small-sized year, but still worth every moment. Keeping counts and lists is cool, but for me it’s more of a memory tool since I’ve never been terribly competitive about such things.

I managed to keep my commitment to birding the trail at least once per week, expect for a week in May when we were in Missouri and a week in August when we were working at Camp Periwinkle. In all, I counted 61 species on the pond trail and if I also include the birds I saw at my house and the birds I saw on the regional trail (with which the pond trail connects) leading to the lake where Double-crested Cormorants, Ring-billed Gulls and Greater Roadrunners can be seen, the number jumps to 67 birds seen on foot, which is a decent number, I think, for someone still learning to find birds.

Ring-billed Gull

It wasn’t long before I started paying attention to more than just the birds. There are trees, wildflowers, rabbits, turtles, deer, butterflies, snakes, and frogs out there. I started to try to pay more attention to those things as well, and it wasn’t long before I went beyond just birding to a different kind of seeing that seemed more a witnessing the little patch of nature just beyond my yard.

Blotched Water Snake

Some of my most memorable days include the day after one of our hailstorms when I saw an Osprey and a Black-and-white Warbler on the same day; the day I discovered the Blotched Water Snakes that live under the bridge; or the time I watched a Yellow-crowned Night Heron catch and kill a crawfish (which made me realize that being boiled alive is probably the easy way out for a crawfish compared to the hard way administered by the night heron).

American Robin

There were times, particularly during last summer’s especially brutal drought-ridden days of infernal heat, on which I had to force myself to get out, knowing I would see only grackles and vultures, but even that was fun since I really do like those birds quite a bit.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

I learned a lot about the seasonal migration patterns of my local birds. Things like when the different duck species come and go from the pond, which ones just pass through and which ones stay. I learned where to look for different kinds of birds and what to listen for and how to let my ears guide my eyes when trying to find something.

Ring-necked Ducks and Gadwalls

In addition to learning a lot about birding, I realized some things about the kind of birder I am. I rarely drive to go birding and when I do, it’s usually just to go somewhere else in Austin like Hornsby Bend. There’s something immensely satisfying about walking out one’s door and seeing the birds that live nearby. Considering the toll taken on all wildlife by cars and roads, birding by foot just seems a bit greener, and getting to know an area inspires a deeper understanding of a place that goes beyond the superficial. I think I’d rather know every bird in my neighborhood than see every bird in the state (which isn’t to say I don’t try to see as many birds as I can; rather, I’m just not going to kill myself—or anything else—to do it).

Other people joined me on these walks: my wife (quite frequently), my parents, my father-in-law, various houseguests. It was fun to be able to share some of the discoveries I’ve made, and those were some of my favorite walks.

Here’s the final 2009 Neighborhood Small Year list with stars next to the ones that were life birds:

  1. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck *
  2. Gadwall
  3. American Wigeon *
  4. Blue-winged Teal *
  5. Northern Shoveler
  6. Northern Pintail *
  7. Ring-necked Duck *
  8. Pied-billed Grebe *
  9. Double-crested Cormorant
  10. Great Blue Heron
  11. Great Egret
  12. Little Blue Heron
  13. Green Heron
  14. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
  15. Black Vulture
  16. Turkey Vulture
  17. Osprey
  18. Accipiter sp. *
  19. Red-shouldered Hawk
  20. American Coot
  21. Killdeer
  22. Ring-billed Gull
  23. White-winged Dove
  24. Mourning Dove
  25. Greater Roadrunner
  26. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  27. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  28. Belted Kingfisher *
  29. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  30. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  31. Downy Woodpecker
  32. Eastern Phoebe
  33. Ash-throated Flycatcher *
  34. Western Kingbird
  35. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  36. Blue Jay
  37. American Crow
  38. Purple Martin
  39. Barn Swallow
  40. swallow sp.
  41. Carolina Chickadee
  42. Black-crested Titmouse
  43. Carolina Wren
  44. Bewick’s Wren
  45. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  46. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  47. Eastern Bluebird
  48. American Robin
  49. Northern Mockingbird
  50. European Starling
  51. Cedar Waxwing
  52. Orange-crowned Warbler *
  53. Yellow-rumped Warbler *
  54. Black-and-white Warbler *
  55. Common Yellowthroat *
  56. Chipping Sparrow
  57. Song Sparrow *
  58. Northern Cardinal
  59. Red-winged Blackbird
  60. Common Grackle
  61. Great-tailed Grackle
  62. Brown-headed Cowbird *
  63. Baltimore Oriole *
  64. House Finch
  65. Lesser Goldfinch *
  66. American Goldfinch
  67. House Sparrow

I’m looking forward to my next walk. I’ll probably keep walking the trail weekly since I did that anyway, but if I don’t feel like it, I won’t. It will also be nice to enjoy walking without listing and counting, though I’ll still list occasionally and continue posting those numbers to ebird for whatever scientific value it may serve.

This was a good exercise for me, but I’m glad to be able to just get back to walking and enjoying the birds, which is what it’s supposed to be about anyway.

Update: This post was included in I and the Bird #118 at Ben Cruchan – Natural History.

Birding the Pond Trail, First Week of Autumn

Last week, the first day of autumn brought a cold front and rain so it actually felt like fall for a few days. I took a walk down the trail that runs through our neighborhood and was surprised to see that some of the winter residents had started to come back. I didn’t bring my camera since it was raining so no pictures.

I wasn’t expecting to see anything more than the grackles, vultures, jays and doves that I’ve been seeing all summer on these weekly counts down the trail so I was happily surprised by the tapping of woodpeckers. Ladder-backs and Red-bellies are fairly common in the neighborhood during fall and winter, but other than a Downy I saw back in July I hadn’t seen one or heard a woodpecker since early April, but I saw at least 2 Ladder-backs and I think I heard a few more farther down. Welcome back, woodpeckers.

As I approached the pond, I saw one of the Red-shouldered Hawks swoop out over the trail. He had some unfortunate something in his talons. Based on size and color, I suspect it was a dove. I saw him again a little farther along. This time he was sitting in a branch about 30 feet off the trail. He stuck around long enough for me to get a quick look and wish I’d brought the camera since it had stopped raining. This hawk has been teasing me all year and one of these days, I’m going to get a decent picture.

When I got to the pond, I was surprised to see a few ducks. I counted 3 Blue-winged Teal in the reeds on the far side. A few days later, I spotted 6 of them, so the ducks are starting to filter back in from points north. I also spotted 3 Pied-billed Grebes swimming in tight formation a little closer to my side of the pond. I can’t help but wonder if these are the same 3 that spent last winter here. These are the first grebes on the pond since May and the first ducks since early April. Welcome back, waterfowl.

For those who may have forgotten (or for any newcomers), I started a so-called Big Year (really more of a committed small year) back in January to see what birds I could see along the trail within a mile of my house. Here’s the updated list as of last week, the first week of fall:

  1. Black-bellied Whistling Duck
  2. Gadwall
  3. American Wigeon
  4. Blue-winged Teal
  5. Northern Shoveler
  6. Northern Pintail
  7. Ring-necked Duck
  8. Pied-billed Grebe
  9. Great Blue Heron
  10. Great Egret
  11. Little Blue Heron
  12. Green Heron
  13. Yellow-crowned Night Heron
  14. Black Vulture
  15. Turkey Vulture
  16. Osprey
  17. Red-shouldered Hawk
  18. Killdeer
  19. White-winged Dove
  20. Mourning Dove
  21. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  22. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  23. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  24. Downy Woodpecker
  25. Eastern Phoebe
  26. Ash-throated Flycatcher
  27. Western Kingbird
  28. Scissor-tailed Flycathcer
  29. Blue Jay
  30. American Crow
  31. Purple Martin
  32. Barn Swallow
  33. Carolina Chickadee
  34. Black-crested Titmouse
  35. Carolina Wren
  36. Bewick’s Wren
  37. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  38. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  39. Eastern Bluebird
  40. American Robin
  41. Northern Mockingbird
  42. European Starling
  43. Orange-crowned Warbler
  44. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  45. Black-and-white Warbler
  46. Common Yellowthroat
  47. Chipping Sparrow
  48. Song Sparrow
  49. Northern Cardinal
  50. Red-winged Blackbird
  51. Common Grackle
  52. Great-tailed Grackle
  53. House Finch
  54. Lesser Goldfinch
  55. American Goldfinch
  56. House Sparrow

Along the Pond Trail and a Bird List

I took a walk along the trail down to the pond today. It was only about 95°F outside, so I counted it a cool day. Still, I figured I’d see what birds were out, do my weekly count for my Pond Trail Big Year and have a look at what the hailstorm did last week. I forgot to charge my camera battery, so no pictures.

The storm ripped up and beat down most of the undergrowth so walking off the trail was easier, though it was weird with all the leaves that shouldn’t have fallen until autumn on the ground instead of still in the trees. Several trees had fallen across the little creek near the footbridge so it was a lot more open in an area where I’m used to deep shade this time of year.

The reeds near the pond were decimated, and I didn’t see any Red-winged Blackbirds around. That’s where they had been nesting so I wonder if they’ll be back. The herons were away as well so I wonder if their nests got flooded or destroyed in the storm. This was this first time all year that I didn’t see any kind of water bird around the pond.

As to birds, I saw the usual suspects for this time of year: grackles, Blue Jays, mockingbirds, cardinals. In the non-avian category, I saw a rabbit and some kind of a garter snake. Nothing special to add to the bird list, but here’s the updated list for the pond trail, about halfway through 2009:

  1. Black-bellied Whistling Duck
  2. Gadwall
  3. American Wigeon
  4. Blue-winged Teal
  5. Northern Shoveler
  6. Northern Pintail
  7. Ring-necked Duck
  8. Pied-billed Grebe
  9. Great Blue Heron
  10. Great Egret
  11. Little Blue Heron
  12. Green Heron
  13. Black Vulture
  14. Turkey Vulture
  15. Osprey
  16. Accipiter sp
  17. Red-shouldered Hawk
  18. Killdeer
  19. White-winged Dove
  20. Mourning Dove
  21. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  22. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  23. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  24. Eastern Phoebe
  25. Western Kingbird
  26. Blue Jay
  27. American Crow
  28. Purple Martin
  29. Barn Swallow
  30. Swallow sp.
  31. Carolina Chickadee
  32. Black-crested Titmouse
  33. Carolina Wren
  34. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  35. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  36. Eastern Bluebird
  37. American Robin
  38. Northern Mockingbird
  39. European Starling
  40. Orange-crowned Warbler
  41. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  42. Black-and-white Warbler
  43. Common Yellowthroat
  44. Chipping Sparrow
  45. Song Sparrow
  46. Northern Cardinal
  47. Red-winged Blackbird
  48. Common Grackle
  49. Great-tailed Grackle
  50. House Finch
  51. Lesser Goldfinch
  52. American Goldfinch
  53. House Sparrow

A Pond Trail Big Year?

A House Finch

House Finch

I spend a lot of time birding the trail that runs parallel to our street down to the pond. I usually stop at the pond (the trail goes on and connects to an extensive network of trails) and on school days, I typically turn around and head home. It’s a short (maybe half-mile) walk from the door to the pond and back. I typically see a good variety of birds but never counted the species.

This year, starting with curiosity about what kinds of overwintering ducks are on the pond, I began listing the birds I saw and entering my counts into ebird. If I do this for an entire year, I should have a good sense of what birds pass through here and at what times of the year. I’m also curious as to how many species I can find within this short range from my house.

Call it my pond trail big year. Or maybe, it’ll be a small or medium year. I don’t know what to expect, but that’s part of the fun.

I’m not shooting for any specific number since I have no idea what all species are around here. I just want to see how many I see. I’ve already ID’d some life birds on the trail and hopefully a few more will pop up over the next 11 months so there’s that to look forward to also.

Most important, is the excuse to get outside, enjoy nature and watch the world do its thing. Not that I need an excuse for that.

Here’s what I’ve seen so far:

  1. Gadwall
  2. American Wigeon
  3. Northern Shoveler
  4. Northern Pintail
  5. Ring-necked Duck
  6. Blue-winged Teal
  7. Least Grebe Pied-billed Grebe
  8. Great Blue Heron
  9. Great Egret
  10. Black Vulture
  11. Turkey Vulture
  12. White-winged Dove
  13. Mourning Dove
  14. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  15. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  16. Eastern Phoebe
  17. Blue Jay
  18. American Crow
  19. Carolina Chickadee
  20. Black-crested Titmouse
  21. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  22. Northern Mockingbird
  23. Orange-crowned Warbler
  24. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  25. Northern Cardinal
  26. House Finch
  27. American Goldfinch

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